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Industrial augmented reality is poised to disrupt the manufacturing industry.
The technology that merges a real-world view with a digital overlay for use in the industrial sector is likely to have use cases for everything from logistics to product development and training.
The augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality market is likely to surge from $26.7 billion in revenue last year to hit $814.7 billion by 2025, a compound annual growth rate of 63%, according to a 2018 report by Zion Market Research. The manufacturing sector is a hotbed of early AR activity for such use cases as complex assembly maintenance, remote expert support and quality assurance, according to the report.
Manufacturers look to industrial AR for efficiencies
"AR is all about bridging the digital and physical works and presenting digital information in context where and when employees do work," said Mike Campbell, executive vice president of augmented reality programs at Boston-based PTC, a global software company that offers products for the industrial sector.
"It's gotten a lot of traction in areas where you are working out there in the real world and dealing with pieces of broken equipment or problems on a line -- places where customers can lose a lot of money and productivity," Campbell said. "They understand that overlaying digital context in those situations can help reduce scrap and rework and allow people to do their jobs faster and more efficiently."
A PTC study on the state of industrial augmented reality called 2019 a breakout year for the technology, as companies push early pilot projects into full production. For example, more organizations are starting to use the technology to reduce training time and costs and to help bridge the growing worker skills gap.
In fact, 55% of respondents said they use AR for applications that instruct or guide, including operator and assembly work instructions, maintenance work instructions, service manual instructions and job-specific training.
PTC bets on AR for training
Like many vendors, PTC is betting on the growing popularity of industrial augmented reality, including its use for training. PTC's application Vuforia, which it acquired in 2015, delivers work instructions to employees in the context of the physical asset they are working on, such as factory floor equipment or a building system.
GlobalFoundries, a global semiconductor manufacturer, has bought into AR to transform worker training and to improve manufacturing processes across its worldwide factories.
Using PTC's Vuforia Studio authoring environment and new Expert Capture tool for collecting subject-matter expertise, GlobalFoundries created new AR-enabled digital training experiences that employees access via devices like Microsoft HoloLens 2 or RealWear's HMT-1. The industrial augmented reality application is used to help train existing workers through a process controlled by voice commands, gestures and location-based steps.
AR's role in training
The best way to use industrial augmented reality for training is open to debate.
While AR is a key enabler for new training techniques, it can be most effective in early-stage training as opposed to delivering information at the point of service, said Joe Barkai, a manufacturing industry analyst, blogger and author. Sometimes there are safety conditions that would preclude on-site workers from using AR devices to get training content, and other times the content is far too simplistic to deliver any real value, he said.
"Workers don't need someone to show them which way to turn a wrench," Barkai said. "We need to move the center of gravity to early-phase training. We need to focus less on stuff people already know and focus more on exceptions and safety and compliance issues."